November 29, 2010

Misbah believes drawn series against South Africa to boost morale for New Zealand tour


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan's newest Test captain, Misbah-ul-Haq Khan, has reckoned that the recently drawn two-Test against the formidable South Africans in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would serve as a morale-booster for the upcoming tour of New Zealand.

“It was quite an accomplishment on our part to have come with creditable performance against our fancied rivals and this show of ours should serve as an inspiration for the tour of New Zealand starting next month,” Misbah observed in his exclusive chat with the APP correspondent, Ehsan Qureshi, soon after returning from the UAE.

"The team put up a fighting performance and holding the powerful South Africans to a draw in both the Test matches was a great sign,” he stated.

"I feel proud and satisfied that I contributed my bit in saving both the games for Pakistan. I want to serve the country to the best of my abilities. My priority is not to prove any of my critics wrong with my batting but my goal is to serve the country,” he commented.

"The credit goes to the whole team not only to me or Younis Khan. It was a team effort all the way," Misbah, having scored 212 runs at an average of 53, added.

"The upcoming series against New Zealand will be tough. But the confidence the guys have gained by competing with South Africa will certainly serve as a moral-booster," the 36-year-old veteran batsman, who has now scored 1128 runs in 21 Test matches at an average of 38.37 with two centuries and seven fifties, remarked.

"I know the ball will be moving around in New Zealand. But our team had done reasonably well there last year and our boys should be able to perform even better this time," he thought.

”The absence of pacers like Muhammad Aamir and Muhammad Asif may be felt.but I think there are some good pace bowlers around in Umar Gul, Tanvir Ahmed and Wahab Riaz We have to rely on the available resources and the team provided by the selectors," he said.

Commenting on the wild-stroke played by Umar Akmal in the first Test, the Pakistan skipper pointed out that even the most aggressive of batsmen needed to be patient in the matches of longer duration.

"Umar is highly talented and aggressive by nature and went after the bowling and paid the penalty. He is expected to learn from his mistakes," Misbah hoped.

Responding to another question about the availability of leg- spinner Danish Kaneria for tour to Down Under, he said it was upto the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and selectors to decide about it.

Similarly, on the selection of former Pakistan Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal, he said it was again the domain of the Board, however, as far as his personal opinion was concerned, he would like them in the team.

He described new stumper Adnan Akmal as talented adding that it would take him time to learn the tact of the trade with the passage of time.

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November 28, 2010

India haunted once more by tail-enders


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was far from convincing performance from the new look Indian outfit as they displayed the same chronic weaknesses that had haunted their illustrious predecessors while overcoming an uncerain and shaky New Zealand side in the first of the five One-day Internationals at the Nehru Stadium in the Eastern town of Guwahati on November 28.

Any side batting first having scored 169 for two at the end of 32 overs would have been expected to score in the excess of 300 in 50 overs. And if you have an inexperienced bowling attack like the Black Claps, sans their premier bowler and skipper Daniel Vettori, playing in the sub-continent even the possibilities of 350 could not have been ruled out.

But as we have seen over the years in far too many matches the Indians make heavy weather of the death overs when the other teams take it as an opportunity of scoring thick and fast even if they had wobbled in the earlier part of the innings.

Not the Indians. More often than not they collapse in the phase of the innings meant for collecting quick runs. The same happened yet again. The platform was set for a real big score but they squandered the golden opportunity by getting bowled out with one over remaining.

I tell u even Bangladesh would have scored many more than 278 in 50 overs against this New Zealand side if they had brought up the 200 of their innings in the 38th over. If you have the likes of the well-set Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina out in the middle and the master blaster Yusuf Pathan padded up to get in next there are only remote possibilities of the total not crossing 300 if not 330.

The young Indians, led by Gautam Gambhir, proved that they have inherited many if not all the chronic weaknesses of the past. I think that of all the teams playing ODIs only India have this capacity of throwing away after such fabulous starts.

Only they could have lost six wickets for 26 runs when they were in complete command of the situation as their unfancied rivals, having being whitewashed by Bangladesh earlier this season, had run short of all ideas.

Kohli scored his first ODI century batting first, his fourth overall and second in a row after that superlative one against Australia. Openers Murali Vijay and Gambhir had done well to negotiate weather the storm as they prevented the repeat of India’s sensational collapse batting first at the same venue last season.

Gambhir had only 278 runs to play with that was at least 30 to 40 runs short what he should have had in the bank. Yet with the kind of bowling resoorces India had there was not much cause for him to worry even while defending the eventual total.

Despite the horrible catchng, that has remained the hallmark of India all along, their bowlers put in the extra effort to make amends and the game remained well and truly in their control until another familiar fightback by the tail-enders.

New Zealand were dead and burried when they lost their eighth wicket at 169 with more than 100 needed in less than 15 overs. The 67-run stand ninth-wicket stand between Kyle Mills and Nathan McCullum reminded many of the similar acts by the tail-enders against India.

Although it was a matter of only two wickets the match became wide open as 41 runs were needed in five overs even though they had to be bowled by experienced pace trio of Ashish Nehra, Shanitkumaran Sreesanth and Munaf Patel. In the end it needed a couple of deliveries from Sreesanth to wrap up the issue.

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November 26, 2010

Another miracle earns Pakistan Asiad hockey gold


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Who would have imagined of the Pakistan hockey team winning the gold medal in the Asian Games in Guangzhou after they had finished last among the 12 participating outfits in the World Cup in New Delhi earlier this year?

There were cries from every nook and corner of the country to bring the ‘culprits’ to book who had caused the humiliation to Pakistan hockey at the international level. A battery of former greats launched a nation-wide campaign to get rid of the personnel whom they considered responsible for the debacle.

As has been customary during the last couple of years in particular, the concept of check and balance is on the way to extinction in this part of the world and those enjoying the political clout have virtually been declared above the law.

If Ijaz Butt could be allowed to continue heading the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) despite his repeated failures and with so many corruption charges mainly because he’s the brother-in-law of an influential Federal Minister there seemed no logic why Qasim Zia or Asif Bajwa would have been removed from the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) for they had their own trusted connections in the corridors of power.

The former Olympians had spearheaded a full fledged movement to oust the PHF bosses but all their efforts failed. Instead of taking them to task and quizzing them, the government officials gave a stronger vote of confidence to the persons who had brought about the disaster.

Qasim Zia and Asif Bajwa, like Ijaz Butt in cricket, were granted the lincence to kill it hockey. They were publicly told to run the affairs according to their whims and to ignore the criticism from all quarters.

Under these circumstances it would have come as no surprise if Pakistan finished last in the Asian Games as well. There would have been no inquiry and no questions asked. Nobody would have bothered to criticize them or to raise any concern because all their energies were consumed earlier.

But as the luck would have it, Pakistan have won the gold medal. They had previously done it seven times but on each occasion they were one of the favourites to lift the title. This is the first time that they have claimed first position when even their entry in the semifinals was not guaranteed.

That’s how the Pakistan sports has been moving of late. They need miracles and they keep getting it somehow. When the Nature comes into play obviously everything else takes a backseat.

It’s quite incredible to say the least how Pakistan have managed to lift the hockey crown at Guangzhou. To have overpowered the in-form teams like South Korea and Malaysia in the knockout games was amazing.

Many people would have written them off when they lost to India in their league matches. But they were taught the lesson once more that it’s never advisable to write off Pakistan until they are actually out of it.

Specialist drag-flicker Sohail Abbas and veteran sriker Rehan Butt scored the goals in the final against Malaysia, who had to settle for silver in their maiden appearance in the title clash after winning the bronze medal six times.

The Malaysians couldn’t play to their potential in the final and Amin Rahim, whose two late goals floored India in the semifinals, faltered in all three penalty corners his team earned

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November 25, 2010

Birthday boy Siddle sizzles with a hat-trick to kickstart Ashes


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Normally I don’t like to comment during the course of a Test match but the spectacular feat of Peter Siddle on the opening day of the first Ashes Test at the Gabba in Brisbane on November 25 has prompted me to do a piece without waiting for the game to finish.

Obviously it’s not the first-ever hat-trick to be achieved in a cricket field or in the international arena but it’s quite unique in more than one way. Siddle must have received numerous messages and greetings before the start of the Test match not only because he was returning to the national team after nearly a year but also because it was getting underway on his 26th birthday.

The Australian selectors had taken a calculated risk by inducting him in the playing eleven at the expense of Doug Bollinger who had been the country’s leading wicket-taker of the year in Test matches.

Siddle did not waste any time in returning the compliments. He celebrated the recall as well as the birthday with a hat-trick and career-best figures. He produced a couple of amazing spells to devastate the England batting line-up.

It was a wonderful exhibition of aggressive fast bowling and he richly deserved the hat-trick, which was first by an Australian since Glenn McGrath did it in 2000-01.

The magical moments came in his 12th over as he brought the crowd at the Gabba to life by dismissing Aliastar Cook, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad on the third, fourth and fifth balls respectively to complete a magnificent hat-trick.

Cook, who was hanging there in the middle since the start of the innings, was plucked by Shane Watson at first slip while the next one whistled between Prior's bat and pad. Broad was undone by a toe-crushing yorker that caught him plumb in front.

There was a little of drama and the celebrations had to be halted briefly as the Broad challenged the verdict of umpire Aleem Dar. The action replays confirmed that the on-field umpire had indeed made the correct decision.

"I'd like to say it was the plan but I was looking to hit the top of off. To get him on the full with a bit of shape was a dream ball. I'll definitely remember it for a long time. To see the finger go up quickly was very pleasing," Siddle was quoted as saying.

"Then all the boys came charging in and Stuart was still in, so I sort of thought he'd call for the review. When you hit them on the full you're pretty confident," the charged up speed merchant stated.

"I don't want to be mean to parents and friends who have given me presents over all the years, but this is definitely going to be one of the best birthday presents that I'm ever going to get. It's an amazing feeling," Siddle added.

His six-wicket haul on the opening day of the first Test has provided Australia the best possible start in their pursuit for regaining the Ashes. Skipper Ricky Ponting could not have desired a better performance from his returning spearhead.

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Intikhab considers UAE series against South Africa a great success


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Although Pakistan could only draw the Test series, after having narrowly lost the ODI series, against South Africa, manager Intikhab Alam very rightly described the just concluded tour of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a success story for his team.

“I think Misbah-ul-Haq led the team from the front. The boys showed fierce determination to perform under intense pressure which augurs well for the future,” he told APP Sports Correspondent, Ehsan Qureshi, in an interview ahead of their departure to Lahore on November 25.

“It was very heartening that the Pakistan team put up a fighting show against formidable South African placed second in the ICC Test ranking. Overall it was an impressive show by our boys,” he commented.

“Coming from behind and drawing both the Test matches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi was creditable performance. It was an outstanding show under intense pressure,” he reckoned.

Pakistan surprised even their own supporters by having managed to draw both the Test matches after nightmarish starts. The fancied South Africans were unable to either of the two games despite being the firm favourites.

“The fighting performance against South Africa in ODIs and Test matches are great boost for the team ahead of their tour to New Zealand,” former Pakistan Captain Intikhab Alam, who replaced Yawar Saeed as Manager, observed.

He said it was good performance by the team in absence suspended pace duo of Muhammad Aamir and Muhammad Asif and opener Salman Butt.

“Team members showed responsibility and good conduct on and off the field. Misbah led the side well and also proved himself with the bat,” Intikhab added.

He said there was lot of talk criticism on the appointment of Misbah as the captain of the Test team but he fully proved himself worthy of the position.

“The atmosphere in the dressing room remained friendly and congenial and coach Waqar Younis alongwith the support staff played their role admirably,” he said.

Commenting on the pitches prepared for Test matches, tracks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were more suited for batting but added there was some good performances by Pakistani and South African bowlers on those pitches.

“I think ODI as well as Test series were interesting and absorbing and there was great tussle between the bat and the ball throughout the tour,” he remarked.

Intikhab Alam credited youngsters like Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, debutant pace bowler Tanvir Ahmed and all-rounder Abdur Rehman. “These guys put in their best and impressed everyone with their outstanding performances. Among the seniors Younis Khan, Umer Gul also fared well,” he said.

Commenting on the areas of concern for his team, he did not mince words in stating that fielding and top level fitness needed to be focussed ahead of the upcoming tour of New Zealand.

To a question about wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider deserting the team on the morning of the fifth ODI in Dubai, he said that he had prepared a report and will be submitting to Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman, Ijaz Butt, shortly.

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November 24, 2010

Dhoni’s confession merits probe


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

"I think we played to 60% of our potential, whatever the reasons were. We have the potential to play much better."

This is the confession the Indian skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, made during the media briefing at Nagpur after the conclusion of the third and final Test against New Zealand on the afternoon of November 23.

Obviously he didn’t elaborate for how could he have that authority where the Board is all powerful and the cricketers cannot be expected to cross limits.

I think this is just the tip of iceberg. He must have been under enormous because he was the leader of the top ranked Test team of the world which couldn’t beat one of the lowest ranked sides in two successive games.

There was no comparison between the two sides and as I have emphasized in my write-ups on this particular series India should have won all the three matches comprehensively. There was no way Daniel Vettori’s young and inexperienced outfit could have come to terms with the most potent and balanced Indian team of all time.

It was really childish of Dhoni to have blamed the pitches of Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. The fact of the matter appeared that his team didn’t have the desire to win those two matches. They could have easily wrapped up the issue in the same manner as they did at Nagpur.

It’s much better that he has admitted now that his team didn’t play to its potential in the earlier two Tests. It’s closer to reality. He could not have said further. It’s for the others to find out the reasons why Team India was not allowed to give its best.

Who’re the people responsible for the poor show of the Indians in two successive Test matches? Doesn’t it amount to playing around with the emotions of the people who follow the game so enthusiastically in anticipation of glories?

Can the Indian cricketers choose not to play to their potential on their own? A cricket board which ousted a man as powerful as Lalit Modi cannot be expected to be taken for a ride by the players.

I don’t think the International Cricket Council (ICC) would have the courage to take up this matter although the matter could fall in the purview of its Anti-Corruption Unit if taken seriously.

But how can the ICC be expected to move when their commercial interests are linked to each and every cricket board. They can only protect the boards because they are their constituent bodies.

I have a feeling that Dhoni’s confession merits proble. Some agency or authority, not under the influence of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), could take up the matter and find out who are the people behind this.

The affairs of the Indian Premier League (IPL) had come on the front pages of the eminent newspapers. I think this matter is much more grave in nature because the national team is involved. I hope someone looks into it for cleaning the sport.

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November 23, 2010

Tendulkar’s yet another super failure


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

There’s indeed something special about a man named Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. When he’s good he’s better than the best. Conversely when he’s not good he fares worse than the worst.

When he’s on song he appears to be the greatest-ever batsman but when he’s not in a mood to be among the runs he looks uglier than the traditional tail-enders who used to be there just for fun.

He has proved it on innumerable occasions that he’s second to none when it comes to taking on the greatest of bowlers. But the same man remains vulnerable to the friendliest of bowlers who are themselves scared of having a go at him.

Isn’t it strange that he’s equal to the task more often than not while coming to task with the champion bowlers and yet behaves like a novice when confronting the lesser mortals? This has been his story for a very long time now.

Statistically he’s the best batsman to be produced by his country. But how many matches has he won for India during an international career having crossed two decades now. He has scored in heaps but his performance in helping his team has not been as phenomenal.

Primarily because of his records, that are unlikely to be broken in the foreseeable future, he’s compared to the likes of the incomparable Don Bradman. I wonder if the Australian genius had so many failures as Tendulkar and that too against inconsequential bowling attacks.

Tendulkar has had this chronic problem of failing against the weaker opponents that do raise many questions just like he’s often found wanting when India need him to fire. The matter gets closed because of the human factor.

He’s no doubt a human being and it’s indeed next to impossible to score consistently over a long period of time. But what fails to satisfy many people is the bitter reality of his repeated failures against weak opponents with the just concluded home series against New Zealand being the latest example.

The form in which Tendulkar was in for the past many months, having blasted centuries after centuries at his sweet will it had seemed very likely that he would complete his half-century of centuries in the very first outing against the Black Caps, possessing a toothless bowling attack.

He was expected to do it in the first Test at Ahmedabad. Centuries by Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid had demoralized the New Zealanders on the opening day and the stage was set for Tendulkar to accomplish the feat without any fuss the following day.

The big crowd having gathered there in anticipation of the historic moment was disappointed when he got himself out against the run of play on the second morning. He got the opportunity to make up but he let it go again in the second innings. Then it was the turn of the holiday crowd at Hyderabad to watch in dismay yet another Tendulkar failure in the second Test.

Came the third and final Test and Tendulkar was in complete control before throwing it away once more. The whole series went by and he couldn’t score even a single century despite being in what people though was the form of his lifetime.

Tendulkar continued his love with the debutants. After having gifted his wicket to Ujesh Ranchod, Ruwan Kalpage, Mark Ealham, Neil Johnson, Jacob Oram, Monty Panesar, Cameron White, Peter Siddle and Peter George he let Andy Mc Kay celebrate at Nagpur.

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India finally in top gear at Nagpur to control damage


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Not surprisingly India performed the damage control act by winning the third and final Test against New Zealand at Nagpur after having given below par performance in the previous two Tests to keep the series alive.

There was always an element of ‘shock’ as well as ‘suspicion’ over the fate of the previous two Tests in which the hosts had looked like obliging the Black Caps with draws.

Obviously the New Zealanders were not the only ones ‘obliged’ with the unlikely result of the first couple of Test matches at Ahmedabad and Hyderabad where the hosts were reluctant to emerge victorious.

As we saw over three days and a bit at Nagpur the Black Caps had neither the firepower nor the resources to come to terms with the mighty Indian side, that has been flying high for the past couple of years.

India had to play below par or under-perform in those games to let New Zealand, fresh from a bashing in Bangladesh, come close because there was a huge gulf between the two teams and a draw was as good as a massive win for the visitors.

New Zealand would not have dreamt of drawing the first two Tests in India but courtesy some rather familiar ‘unseen’ factors the unlikeliest of results were witnessed in those games.

India didn’t seem to have the plan to repeat Ahmedabad and Hyderabad at Nagpur and the entire world saw what has happened there. Even the absence of their champion fast bowler, Zaheer Khan, didn’t make a difference.

India could have lost quite a few ranking points even at being top of the ladder if they let New Zealand draw at Nagpur too. I think this could have been the most likely factor that prompted the hosts to play the game the way they should have played in the last two Tests as well.

India won the third Test by a margin of an innings and 198 runs. They could have easily registered innings victories in the last two Tests as well, had they desired so.

The inexperienced New Zealand side was at their mercy from day one of the series. There could not have been a better opportunity to whitewash the Black Caps who had come to India with no hopes of challenging the home side.

As someone had remarked at the start of the series it was to be a mismatch. It should have been that way throughout the series but the Indians, not unexpectedly, chose to do things that looked ‘strange’ to the masses only.

Those having followed and covered India’s matches over the years did know that there would be some drama during the New Zealand which the home side was not going to be interested in winning as convincingly as was being anticipated.

Not many experts would disagree that India could have blasted New Zealand inside three days in each of the three Tests. That would not have only enthralled the spectators but also helped in preparing for the upcoming tougher assignments with greater confidence. They would have certainly been in a better frame of mind having done it three times rather than once.

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November 19, 2010

Do Indian cricket authorities care for glory, rankings etc?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The International Cricket Council (ICC) had introduced the rankings in order to keep the interest alive in dead rubber games. It was also considered a measure to prevent match fixing as there seemed greater chance for such matches to be ‘fixed.’ Also the ranking points served as incentives for the fancied teams while taking on lesser mortals.

But all such incentives and precautionary measures aimed at controlling the evil prove meaningless if money becomes the sole criterion and things like the national interest and glories for country are pushed to a side.

Look at the latest example. The Indians are the top ranked side in Test cricket, a position they have thoroughly deserved after performing consistently against the other high flying nations. They are blessed with the most potent side in world cricket at the moment and they have come good against the toughest of rivals.

But India have had a big problem throughout the last couple of decades. They have not been at their best while taking on those sides found wanting elsewhere. They have a history of coming up with below par performances against teams like New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Kenya.

People thought that they would do away with this old habit while taking on New Zealand in the current Test and ODI series with the ranking points at stake and India aiming to consolidate at the top of the tree.

Such thoughts have remained mere thoughts and the Indians have continued to show complete disrespect for their position. More than anything they are playing with the emotions of their own people. It remains to be seen for how long the cricket enthusiasts in India will tolerate this exercise.

It has been reported that India would be losing ranking points irrespective of the result of third and final Test at Nagpur starting on November 20. They can control damage by winning the game in which case they will lose only one point. A draw will cost them four points while a defeat, which can never be ruled out when they are in such generous mood, will deprive them of six points.

Batting has been India’s forte in the recent past and their batsmen have plundered the most lethal of bowling attacks rather ruthlessly on all types of pitches. Will you believe it that all their premier batsmen, with the sole exception of Virender Sehwag, are struggling at home against the friendliest of bowling attacks?

Wasn’t it a pity that the cricket fans of Ahmedabad and Hyderabad were denied the pleasure of watching Sachin Tendulkar at his best? Who would believe that the New Zealand bowlers would tie him down this much before scalping him cheaply against the heaviest of odds not once but three times in a row?

It’s very difficult to say if Tendulkar would indeed be allowed to reach the much-awaited 50th Test century at Nagpur or the plan is to defer it further. We will know it over the next few days.

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November 18, 2010

How many more presents for New Zealanders in India?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The New Zealanders be been feeling delighted to be in India at the moment. They must be feeling over the moon with their exploits because they could not even have thought in their distant dreams of coming up with this kind of performance.

What was being branded as a mismatch before the start of the series, not surprisingly, has become quite a contest now and the fate hinges entirely on the outcome of the third and final Test. Cricket we all know is a funny game but not everyone knows how far the Indians could do in enlivening proceedings out of a dead game.

This is certainly not for the first time. The Indians have had this tendency of obliging the underdogs, more so in their own den. No wonder the teams like New Zealand and Zimbabwe are the major beneficiaries when India are the overwhelming favourites in a home series in particular.

I think it’s just a matter of the history repeating itself here. At least I won’t be surprised if New Zealand go on to clinch the Test series and then also claim the series of five One-day Internationals that follows. In fact it looks quite likely now that the New Zealanders would be allowed to compete in each and every game of the tour.

The Indians have done it so many times against New Zealand previously, having let them dominate and win from position of nowhere.

The Indians, fresh from a resounding 2-0 win over Australia in the Test series, were being expected to blank the Black Caps, who had been whitewashed at the hands of Bangladesh in the ODI series just a few weeks ago.

But look at the Indians how they have controlled the series against New Zealand, a totally disjointed and depressed side at the start of the tour. It needed quite an effort and sacrifice on part of the hosts to let the New Zealanders come at par with them.

What happened in the first Test at Ahmedabad was nothing short of disgrace to cricket. India had to work extremely hard to get bowled out for less than 500 in the first innings after having got to 300 for the loss of just one wicket. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina had to fail in order to ensure a smaller total than anticipated.

The Indian bowlers had to work even harder to facilitate the inexperienced New Zealand batsmen post a much higher total than their capabilities. Then we witnessed the sight of the mighty Indian batting order to collapse to 15 for 5 against a bowler who never looked threatening or devastating.

In the second Test at Hyderabad the hosts were found to be even more generous than the first game. The New Zealand opener, Tim McIntosh, having bagged a pair in the first Test came very close to scoring a century in each innings while the flashy wicketkeeper, Brendom McCullum, was gifted with his maiden double century.

What next India? Should we see the remaining New Zealanders returning their career best performance in the third and final Test or will we get a break for a change.

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November 16, 2010

Can Zulqarnain take such a big step all by himself?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Well Zulqarnain Haider has remained a dubious character all along but expecting him to have deserted the national team in the middle of a series looks something too big for a man of his stature.

The controversial wicketkeeper-batsman was in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), having played the ‘decisive’ knock that guided Pakistan to yet another upset win over the South Africa in the fourth One-day International, stunned the cricket world by not turning up at the ground for the fifth and final ODI.

It must have been a ‘shocker’ for the entire cricketing fraternity but not the officials of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) who had obviously handed over him his passport before the game.

Had that not been the case how Zulqarnain flew out of the UAE. In a country as regulated as the UAE there was not even minutest of doubt that he did have his travel documents with him when the news of him being ‘in the air’ was broken during the fifth ODI.

While everyone was speculating about his whereabouts when he was found missing as the teams reached the ground but I don’t think there was any element of surprise, by the look of things, for Ijaz Butt and his cronies.

How can Ijaz Butt be unaware of the episode when one of his lieutenants must have handed over the passport to Zulqarnain because there’s no evidence to suggest that the ‘absconding’ cricketer had stolen it? If it were so a case should have been lodged with the local police about it.

Doesn’t it look interesting that Zulqarnain did not ‘inform’ it officially to the team management or the so-called PCB about his plans to escape from the UAE? It lends credence to the theory that he had an understanding with Ijaz Butt without whose whims nobody could dare doing anything, particularly his close associates.

Zulqarnain’s preference to reveal the ‘secrets’ to the media instead of reporting to the International Cricket Council’s Anti Corruption Unit poses few questions and there’s obviously a message between the lines that everything was being according to some previously worked out plan.

Zulqarnain, having surfaced in London, didn’t come up with any satisfactory explanation in the press conference he addressed there and in fact more questions emerged that remained unanswered.

There are indications although not reported by the media in a big way yet that Ijaz Butt did have a ‘role’ in facilitating his safe passage to the United Kingdom. This is such a serious matter which could even lead to his dismissal from the position of the Chairman, PCB.

Although Ijaz Butt has caused irreparable to the Pakistan cricket over the last couple of years this could the issue that finds him out of the job he loves so dearly because of the ‘absolute power’ he wields in calling the shots.

I don’t know if the matter would continue to be probed or the concerned authorities will close the case at the behest of some ‘influential’ people in Pakistan whom he has obliged at the cost of national interest.

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November 13, 2010

Ijaz Butt’s dismissal order on the cards


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The stories have started doing the rounds that Ijaz Butt is being booted from his position as Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) as he’s understood to have lost the support of the man who got him inducted and protected him for more than two years in the most sought after job in the country.

Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, one of the most influential federal ministers having close ties with both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, is understood to be finally fed up with his brother-in-law who is suspected to be involved in serious wrongdoings of late.

Ahmed Mukhtar’s sister is married to Ijaz Butt and this appears to be the only reason why the latter has survived till now. Any lesser mortal would have bitten the dust and could have been behind the bars for the offences committed during his stay at the PCB.

Cricket is the uniting force of the nation and it’s the most widely followed sport in the country by some distance. The action on and off the field creates waves and the media considers even the minutest of details newsworthy. In other words the performance of the cricketers makes and breaks the mood of the people.

The accomplishments of the national cricket team lift the spirit and the morale of the people of Pakistan a long way. It’s taken much more seriously than just a sporting conquest.

In some way the performance of the cricket team directly affects the government. The success earns tremendous goodwill for the government and people credit them for the victory. Similarly the government comes under fire the moment the cricketers come up with ordinary effort in the field or if the cricket administrators of the country are found wanting in dealing with the issues.

The Pakistan cricket has been at the lowest ebb during the last couple of years. In this period not only the national team has dropped down in the ICC rankings in Tests as well as One-day Internationals but Pakistan has suffered setbacks after setbacks off the field as well. There have been innumerable controversies having caused considerable damage to the image of the country besides embarrassing the government.

With Ijaz Butt’s one-man show in the PCB failing miserably in coming to terms with the cricketers, the ensuing players’ power has been instrumental in bringing about the catastrophe in the recent past. The total lack of management and its vacuum has allowed the betting mafia to make inroads freely and Pakistan’s cricketers have been making headlines for the wrong reasons regularly.

The PCB needs a helmsman who can turn it around with his outstanding leadership qualities, visionary approach, vast administrative experience and sound technical knowledge about the game. He is to be an individual who has the access to key government officials, enjoys the respect of the international cricket fraternity and has the iron will to tackle the trickiest of situations like controlling the menace of players’ power.

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November 12, 2010

Shoaib Siddiqui plans taking bowling to interior of Sindh


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui, Secretary, Sports and Youth Affairs, Government of Sindh, who has been the motivating force in making things happens on a fast track as far as the activities of sports at the provincial level are concerned, has vowed to take the sport of bowling, popular sport of the urban areas, to the interior regions of the province.

Shoaib Siddiqui, who had taken over the chief of the sports department of Sindh in October 2008, firmly believes that it’s the fundamental right if every citizen to have access to the sporting facilities.

More significantly he also reckons that the government, besides the corporate sector, has a responsibility to create the sports infrastructure to let the common man engage himself in healthy activities.

The visionary and responsible government officers like him, who believe in meeting the challenge and overcoming the obstacles, are the ones who bring about a change despite the shortcomings in the system. It’s easier said than done.

Shoaib Siddiqui gladdened the hearts of the enthusiasts of the sport of bowling by supporting one of their tournaments recently which was organized by the Sindh Tenpin Bowling Association with the venue being the bustling Thunder Pins housed in Millennium Mall which is one of the favourite destinations for the youth of Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and other adjoining areas.

It was the first ranking bowling event to be staged in Pakistan, made possible by the Sindh Sports Board (SSB). It was a major accomplishment for the organizers who had also made an appearance in the 13th Sindh Games 2010 held in Karachi.

The inaugural Sindh Inter-League Bowling Tournament 2010 was acclaimed as a success story with about 50 bowlers having registered in the masters and amateur categories. The outstanding performers of the landmark three-day were rewarded with cash prizes besides certificates and trophies.

Hanif Mohammad Mirchawala, Director Sports, Government of Sindh, was the chief guest in the presentation ceremony of the tournament having been inaugurated by the departmental chief, Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui.

“I suggest that the Sindh Sport Board should provide us with the space to open up a bowling arena in terms of private-public partnership. We are trying our level best to make this sports reachable for every class, a technician who won gold dedal in 13thSindh Games Tenpin Bowling Event 2010 amateur category is the living example,” Romis Ali General Secretary, STBA, observed in his welcome speech.

Top Seed Shabbir Lashkarwala lived up to the billing to become the first Sindh Inter-League champion by scoring an average of 172. He was also the gold medalist in the13th Sindh Games 2010 Tenpin Bowling event.

Rashid Ali, Syed Zubair and Aleem Agha claimed the next three positions in the masters’ category with Mahmood Ahmed claiming the award for the highest score of 236.

Abdullah Tahir emerged the champion in the amateur singles while the next three positions were shared by Shahjahan, Abid Ahmed and Faizan Tariq. Abdullah Tahir got another prize for his being the top scorer with 214.

Sindh Whites, comprising of Khawaja Ahmed, Zubair Ali, Naeem, and Abdullah Tahi, won the team event with Sindh Green, featuring Robert, Shahjahan, Sarim and Mahmood Ahmed, finishing as the runner-up and Sindh Blues, containing Naseem Ahmed Qureshi, Shabbir Lashkerwala, Farhan Riaz and Abid Ahmed, getting third position.

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November 9, 2010

Steve Davis should be retired from ICC elite panel


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Contrary to what some people might think, for some strange reasons, the Indian cricketers remain more consistently at the receiving end than their contemporaries when it comes to the ICC rulings, be it a match referee or an umpire.

What umpires Mark Benson and Steve Bucknor had done in the Sydney Test between Australia and India in 2008 to bring the game to disrepute was something unprecedented and unheard of.

What match referee Mike Denness had done in the South Africa-India series in 2001 jeopardized the future of the game as the two countries were forced to engage into an ‘unofficial’ Test match after so much of controversies.

In both the above incidents the team to be victimized was common. Not surprisingly the Indians were hard done by the ICC officials on both occasions.

Smaller or minor injustices do keep occurring once in a while and nearly every team gets affected but when it comes to something major or monumental we have the Indians to face the music.

Something similar happened on the fifth and final day of the first Test between India and New Zealand in Ahmedabad on November 8 when the Australia umpire, Steve Davis, committed ‘blunders’ on successive deliveries to create history of sorts.

I am not sure if the idea was to oblige the New Zealand captain, Daniel Vettori, or it was meant to hurt the Indian duo of VVS Laxman and Zaheer Khan, Davis really made a mess of it on both occasions and it must leave a question mark about his future as an ICC umpire.

If Davis is unable to locate or hear those big inside edges then I am afraid he should not be standing in even a club match because it’s against the rules of the game to declare a batsman leg-before wicket if he hits the ball first.

What Davis was trying to do? Was he attempting to bring the match back to life as Laxman and Harbhajan Singh were in the process of saving it for India? By ruling Laxman and Zaheer out on successive deliveries, when neither of them could have been out, he certainly opened up the contest.

A minimum of 40 overs were still to be bowled with India 254 ahead when Davis made those two horrible decisions on successive deliveries of the 90th over of the innings by which time none of the New Zealand bowlers was threatening enough.

Davis provided the breakthrough to New Zealand and denied a thoroughly deserved century to Laxman. It was a big inside edge and the batsman was well and truly shocked. Zaheer couldn’t believe his luck either as the Australian umpire showed his power by another wrong call.

Harbhajan, who was at the non-striker’s end when Davis was on fire, also had a few words with the beneficiary, Vettori, who only smiled back.

Harbhajan was on the verge of completing his first Test hundred when Davis was striking those telling blows and he showed his distrust for the umpire by opting to clear the field instead of becoming his third victim of the day.

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November 8, 2010

ICC desires to keep Pakistan cricket afloat despite everything


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

International cricket has become a booming industry and the people running the show take it as pure business rather than anything else. There is hardly any element of patriotism or any other thing than business interest in the minds of the game’s administrators.

Cricket, by the look of things, is no more a gentleman’s game. Neither could one sense any feeling of pride among the cricketers while playing for the country. It’s all about money now.

No wonders the movers and shakers of the International Cricket Council (ICC) also work on their own agenda and they have a set of priorities that may not satisfy or thrill the cricket enthusiasts in different corners of the world.

The role of the ICC towards the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is also very clear. It’s not out of any passion or inclination towards them but it’s just due to necessity that the governing body of the game is not going to harm or hurt the interests of the Pakistan cricket.

It’s in their own interest that the ICC desires to keep the Pakistan cricket afloat despite all the issues of management or the lack of it. The ICC will do everything in its right to keep Pakistan going because they are not going to lose one of the biggest markets.

Obviously Pakistan is a big enough market and it would not be in the interests of the ICC to shrink their territory at a time when they are looking towards expansion and what they call globalization of the sport.

The ICC functionaries are well and truly aware of the fact that Pakistan is one country that has massive cricket following and the broadcasters as well as the advertisers need it in a big way.

In this context and the actions and inactions of the ICC are understandable. The ICC does give the impression that they are keeping a close eye on the affairs of Pakistan whereas they are least interested about what’s going on in this part of the world.

For public consumption or to fulfill some of their requirements they continue issuing a memo or two to the PCB which everybody knows is nothing more than an eyewash. The ICC is neither sympathetic to the cause of Pakistan nor do they oppose it. Their only concern is the Pakistan market which they get to promote and please their broadcasting partners.

Quite a funny statement came from the ICC the other day when their Chief Executive, Haroon Lorgat, was quoted to have certified that the PCB was showing a determination to protect the integrity of cricket.

He made the observation after the ICC’s Pakistan Task Team (PTT, headed by the ECB Chairman, Giles Clarke, met by teleconference on November 7 to receive an update on the progress being made by the Pakistan Cricket Board to ensure integrity of cricket.

‘The PCB has clearly recognized that it is imperative to protect the integrity of cricket and we are indeed impressed by the progress reported. Their willingness to play such an active role on the integrity issue is vital to the future of international cricket. They have shown a clear determination to tackle their challenges. The ICC Task Team is mindful of those challenges and is committed to supporting the PCB,” Haroon Lorgat added.

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November 6, 2010

Further glories for Sri Lanka, miseries for Australia


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Starting from the English summer, the Australian cricket continues to sink further and the much-dreaded string of failure has extended at home. More alarmingly the spate of defeats continues unabated and there’s no respite even at their all-time favourites venues like the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).

The two historic grounds, having witnessed the home team conquer the most fancied of opponents over the years, were the venue of the debacle of the Aussies lately. They were beaten narrowly by Sri Lanka in the first One-day International at the MCG while the margin of defeat was a bit more concerning in the following ODI at the SCG where the series was settled with a game remaining.

The present generation in Australia is not accustomed to watching their cricket get humiliated for so long. They have grown up in the days when Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting inflicted wounds on one opposition after other, with the possible exception of India, in an era when no team dared taking them on.

Ponting is very much around even today but he has neither the form nor the fitness to worry the opponents. His successor Michael Clarke hasn’t had the best of starts to his captaincy career and the think-tank in Australia has every reason to get concerned and chalk out different plans to arrest the decline.

It had all started with a poor series against Pakistan in England about six months ago. Having dominated a much stronger Pakistan outfit at home when they won all nine international games against them, they got derailed against all odds while facing a depleted side.

Whether the Australians were guilty of under-estimating Pakistan completely or they went into the games casually there was certainly an element of shock in their below-par performance in England.

After losing the plot in both the Twenty20 Internationals, in which they failed to chase modest targets despite having being crowned as the world champions in the fastest version of the game only a few months back, they let down their supporters by their horrible performance in both the Test matches that followed.

In a country where the seam bowlers do the business in the early part of the summer, the Australians had to look to their part-time bowlers for bowling Pakistan out. They escaped defeat in the first Test but were humiliated in the second Test to have the series leveled that they were expected to win comfortably.

What has followed since then has obviously been less surprising. Their struggling side was taken care of by the formidable Indians at home and now another powerful side, Sri Lanka, has availed the opportunity of settling scores with them.

Unfortunately from the Sri Lankan point of view it’s just a mini-tour. The form they are in they would have desired staying much longer in Australia to improve their record in this particular country.

Kumar Sangakkara’s men, high on confidence, have wrapped up the ODI series after having pocketed the one-off T20I. Now they should be looking forward to return from Australia undefeated by winning the third and final ODI, It will come as no surprise if they do it.

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November 5, 2010

Mathews, Malinga extend Australia’s losing streak


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was not very long ago when the Australians were busy in thrashing one opponent after another in nearly every format of the game. They were slow starters to some extent in the latest version, Twenty20 Internationals, but their overall dominance in international cricket was legendary.

Well now it’s the other way round for the Aussies. Their losing streak has been extending and there’s very little to suggest if it will stop. The manner in which they lost the first One-day International against Sri Lanka at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on November 3 their think-tank must have got worried and they need to do something to arrest the decline.

Australia appeared to be in total control when they had reduced the visitors to 107 for eight while defending a total of 239. Little idea they had that the game would be snatched from such a commanding position.

The world record ninth wicket stand between Angelo Matthews and Lasith Malinga thrilled the huge number of Sri Lankan supporters at the MCG but it shattered the Aussies, already running short of confidence due to string of defeats.

Mathews and Malinga eclipsed the long standing record of Kapil Dev and Syed Kirmani who had rescued India from a similarly precarious position in the game against Zimbabwe during the 1983 World Cup.

Comparing the two huge ninth wicket stands, the one between Mathews and Malinga was more unlikely. While both Kapil Dev and Kirmani were recognized batsmen they also were pitted against an inexperienced team which was yet to be allotted the full membership of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

No disrespect meant to the accomplishment of Kapil Dev and Kirmani but they had put together what indeed had turned out to be the match winning partnership while batting first.

The situation was comparatively more tense when Malinga, a fast bowler not possessing batting credentials, walked in to join Mathews, a promising all-rounder but nowhere near to the class of the great Kapil Dev yet

It was incredible how Mathews and Malinga turned it around against the Aussies at the MCG, the venue of many of their historic conquests. The Sri Lankans have had very poor record in Australia before the start of the current tour and one thought they had run out of steam once more when the two got together.

Their 132-run partnership was not broken until the scores had been tied and Australia’s chances of winning the game had been blown away. Malinga, having blasted his maiden ODI half-century, was short of the crease when attempting what would have been the winning run.

It was Sri Lanka’s good luck that a man as vastly experienced as Muttiah Muralitharan, no rabbit with the bat, walked in at number 11 and he completed the job in style with the assured Mathews at the other end.

The Sri Lankan victory overshadowed the impressive international debut of left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty who claimed four wickets to bring Australia back in the game after Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene had threatened to make it a one-sided contest.

Australia’s innings was rocked by Thisara Perera whose five-wicket haul limited the hosts to 239 despite the recovery led by the ever-dependable Michael Hussey who remained undefeated with 71 containing just one boundary and as many as 50 singles.

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